Common Myths & Realities of Planning Your Summer

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The following addresses the common myths and realities encountered by first-year medical students planning the summer between their first and second year of medical school. The document was written by Suzanne Sarfaty, M.D., Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs.

If you require additional assistance regarding these issues, you may make an appointment to see Dr. Sarfaty with Ana Bediako in the Office of Enrichment.

What Should I Do for My Summer?

There are many choices. Here are some guiding words and resources to help you decide what to do during your summer. Plan ahead; start thinking about what you would like to do during your first semester at BUSM. Talk to your advisor about the possibilities and start browsing for information.

MYTH: This is your last “free time” in medical school.

REALITY: The two and half months you have off is undoubtedly a wonderful span of time that will be difficult to find easily in the future. However, there are many opportunities that students create for themselves during and after medical school to accomplish long desired, delayed goals. You will have time in the fourth year – in some cases up to twelve weeks of vacation time; although most students try to utilize this time to study for USMLE Step II and schedule residency interviews, you may have the opportunity to undertake other experiences. Also, consider the possibility of an additional year of school if you have some burning desire to do something you have been unable to do thus far such as teach a class, experience international health work, get an MPH or MBA… the possibilities are limitless. [Please be advised, extending your time at BUSM has financial and registration implications. Additionally, there are licensure implications when lengthening your time at the medical school, both in terms of the amount of time allowed between taking Step I and Step III and for the licensing boards themselves, i.e., any term of education longer than 4 years has to be explained by letter.

MYTH: You have to do something “productive” for your dean’s letter to get a good residency.

REALITY:Students’s accomplishments in the summer between their first and second year do not have a profound impact on their candidacy for residency. It is more important that you use the time in a way that is meaningful for you and enables you to get a better perspective on what you want to do with your future. You may decide to work on a community service project, travel, visit family, or read those novels you have been saving for a rainy day.

MYTH: Shadowing an MD is very helpful outside of the medical school experience.

REALITY: All of you will have an ICM experience that will expose you to a physician in a given discipline. For most of you, that exposure will be enough to get what you can at this stage of your training (i.e., you will want to do more by June, but you will not have the skills or resources to take it to the next step). Additional shadowing over the summer is mostly helpful if you are curious about a field of medicine that you will not be exposed to (i.e., dermatology, radiology, urology, orthopedics) until your fourth year. It does not help your candidacy for residency to have a simple shadowing experience. If you are thinking seriously about one of these fields, you should consider working on a research project with a mentor as these tend to be more competitive and students often need more than just additional “shadowing” to prove their level of interest.

MYTH: I need to do research to get into a good residency program.

REALITY:It is useful to complement your medical school experience with either an introduction to research or a continuing experience in a given research project of interest to you, but it is not a necessity. Many students are able to match well in a variety of fields without prior research experience. However, it is clearly to a student’s advantage to have research exposure if they are interested in a competitive subspecialty such as orthopedics, urology, dermatology, etc. Many students may start research in one specialty and then change their minds once they have clinical exposure; this is not a problem since the continuity and perseverance to see a project through is more important than the topic itself. I encourage all students to consider a clinical or basic science research experience to enhance their education, especially if they have time off during the spring semester during which time they can get involved in the project. The Medical Student Summer Research Program provides scholarships to first-year students who complete research at BUMC during the summer after their first year of medical school. For possible projects, search Healthcare Opportunities for Medical Students.